Arlie O. Petters, MBE (born February 8, 1964) is a Belizean American mathematical physicist, who is the Benjamin Powell Professor and Professor of Mathematics, Physics, and Business Administration at Duke University. Petters is a founder of mathematical astronomy, focusing on problems connected to the interplay of gravity and light and employing tools from astrophysics, cosmology, general relativity, high energy physics, differential geometry, singularities, and probability theory. His monograph “Singularity Theory and Gravitational Lensing” is the first to develop a mathematical theory of gravitational lensing. He was Chairman of the Council of Science Advisers to the Prime Minister of Belize (2010-2013).
Arlie Petters was raised by his grandparents in the rural community of Dangriga, Belize. His mother had immigrated to New York and married a U.S. citizen, with Arlie joining them when he was 13. He went to Canarsie High School in Brooklyn.
Petters earned a B.A./M.A. in Mathematics and Physics from Hunter College, CUNY in 1986 with a thesis on “The Mathematical Theory of General Relativity”, and began his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Mathematics in the same year. After two years of doctoral studies, he became an exchange scholar in the Princeton University Department of Physics in absentia from MIT. Petters earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1991 under advisers Bertram Konstant (MIT) and David Spergel (Princeton University).
Over the ten-year period from 1991–2001, Petters systematically developed a mathematical theory of weak-deflection gravitational lensing, beginning with his 1991 MIT Ph.D. thesis on “Singularities in Gravitational Microlensing” and followed by the 12 papers [AP1] – [AP12] below. The papers resolved an array of theoretical problems in weak-deflection gravitational lensing covering image counting, fixed-point images, image magnification, image time delays, local geometry of caustics, global geometry of caustics, wavefronts, caustic surfaces, and caustic surfing. His work culminated with a 2001 mathematical tome [AP13] that, among other things, systematically created a framework of stability and genericity for k-plane gravitational lensing. The book drew upon powerful tools from the theory of singularities and put the subject of weak-deflection k-plane gravitational lensing on a rigorous and unified mathematical foundation.